Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral

While in the Fort Myers area of Florida, I heard about the burrowing owls in nearby Cape Coral. These are little tiny owls only about 6-9 inches tall that live in burrows in the ground.

I have learned that doing research is essential to getting good photographs, especially if you have a limited amount of time. Searching online I found out that many people had spotted the owls in a field next to a parking lot at the library. Now there’s somewhere I never would have looked! I knew they were smart, but owls at the library? That seems a little too Winnie-the-Pooh but who am I to question a cliche?

Local citizens want to protect the little owls so they put t-stakes around any burrows they find so people will not walk on them and collapse the burrows, and it gives the owls a little perch at the same time.

I went to the library parking lot and saw the field and the stakes, but no owls.

A local fellow was out for his morning walk and I asked him about the owls. He said he saw them almost every day. He asked where we were from and was very interested in our trip. We had a great conversation about travel and living life to the fullest before he went on his way.

A couple of minutes later, we heard some whistling from down the street and there he was waving his arms around to get our attention. He had come across some owls.

Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, Florida
As always, you can click on any of the images to view larger versions.

It is hard to get a sense of scale in these photographs since you cannot really put another object in the frame. Just imagine him not much bigger than your hand. In person, the owls are so endearing with their compact bodies and huge yellow eyes. This one was well camouflaged in the dry grass.

Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, Florida

To make these images, I approached the burrows very slowly with my 400mm lens handheld. I first made some images looking down on the owl inside the burrow to capture the environment and just get a quick shot in case he took off. After he got used to me I went a little closer and got closer to the ground to be at eye level with him.

Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, Florida

In order to make a greater distinction between the owl and the background, I darkened the background grass in post-processing.

Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, Florida

Here is another owl I found in a different location. This one was a bit easier because the owl was sitting up on one of the t-stakes and there were some dark green trees in the background that nicely contrasted with the owl’s coloring.

Burrowing Owl, Cape Coral, Florida

I wish I could have made an image with more than one owl in the frame, but they would not pose for me that way. In any case I felt lucky to have met them.

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39 Responses to “Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral”

  1. Len Saltiel says:

    Wow, these are stunning Anne. Just beautifully captured.
    Len Saltiel recently posted..SkyMy Profile

  2. Dina J says:

    I’m glad you got to see those little guys. They are so cute. You got some amazing details.

  3. Eden says:

    Brilliant shots!
    Eden recently posted..February 6, 2012: Newest PrintsMy Profile

  4. Wow, you have some great photos there. Those stern faces on such little birds are a riot!

  5. Russ Bishop says:

    You captured some wonderful portraits here Anne. Alan’s right – those are some pretty intense eyes!
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  6. Marc Perkins says:

    Those are adorable! I especially love the second one; it looks so grumpy :)
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  7. Very good! I’m amazed at your steady hand, getting such excellent focus handholding with 400 mm – well done! Very cute owls. Do you know what sort of sound they make (if any) at night? I’m guessing it might be quite different from our “who-cooks-for you” barred owls.
    Laurie MacBride recently posted..Mosaic of Green: the Wet CoastMy Profile

    • Laurie,
      The Burrowing Owl is diurnal, so we get to hear them both day and night. The most familiar call is a “coo-coo” sound similar to a mourning dove. The mating call is a variation of this and quite difficult to describe, and is done by the male at night. They have quite a few other vocalizations some of which are given to “yell” at the kids. When they want the juveniles back in the burrow in a hurry, they have a very distinct alarm call.
      In addition, the juveniles make a sound like a rattlesnake, that often discourages prey from entering the burrow.
      I have a family of Burrowing Owls living on my front lawn, so I get to hear them quite well. Some where I read that they are the most vocal of the owl species.

      • Hi Beverly, thanks again for adding these details, I know many of the readers are interested in knowing more about the owls and you shared information that only a person who has owls living in their yard could provide! That must be so cool to be able to see them all the time. I guess it must make it a little hard to mow the lawn. I hope people don’t view them as pests when they take over the yard!

    • Hi Laurie, I didn’t hear them make any sound, but another reader commented about the sounds they make in the comments on this post. That 400mm lens has amazing sharp focus but I did have to us a fast shutter speed with it.

  8. Mim says:

    I just love the one in its burrow, Anne, but they’re all fabulous shots, and it’s wonderful that you shot these by gaining trust first.

    When you write to Laurie, send her this link to the owl’s call:
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Burrowing_Owl/id/ac

  9. Mark Neal says:

    Beautiful shots, Anne. You got some great expressions and compositions. And the 400 is an incredible achievement. As usual, I’m sharing.
    Mark Neal recently posted..HDR – A Natural Angle of View – Large to SmallMy Profile

    • Hi Mark, Thank you very much for your kind comments. I do love that 400mm lens. I rented it and will probably do so again when I have more wildlife opportunities. Thanks for sharing :)

  10. Anne these are just wonderful! I love the look he gave you in #2! All squinty-eyed with one eyebrow(feather?) raised, the classic “What’re ya lookin at?” What a great series I’m so glad you got to see them.
    Howard Jackman recently posted..Week 8 of 52: “Laughter”My Profile

  11. LensScaper says:

    Those last two images, in particular, are superb. Pin sharp. Tremendous work, Anne.
    LensScaper recently posted..The scalloped riverMy Profile

  12. Anne,
    Cape Coral is home to the largest population of the Florida species of the Burrowing Owl in the State (of Florida). Since the Florida species is only found in Florida, by default we have the largest population in the world.
    They certainly are endearing! And with and estimated 1000 nesting pairs(based on a study done 10 years ago) in the City, it would have been more surprising if you had not seen one rather than your finding one!
    You did a great job of photographing them.

    • Hi Beverly, sorry for my late reply, I have been with very limited internet lately. Thank you very much for your comments on the burrowing owl post. That fellow who called me over to see the owls said the same thing about it being more surprising if I didn’t them. I’m really glad we ran into him or I might have missed them.

  13. These are such sweet photos! I’ve always wanted to photograph them, and I’m here in FL! ;-)
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  14. Jim Denham says:

    Such expression from these guys! Great work!
    Jim Denham recently posted..Adrian 13My Profile

  15. Unbelievable! Wow, Anne, this is an epic series my friend! That little feathered friend is truly so cute, and you’ve really managed to capture a most wonderful set here! Fan-flippin-tastic, my friend!
    Toad Hollow Photography recently posted..The Little SchoolhouseMy Profile

  16. [...] Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral – oh my word, what a WONDERFUL series of photographs from Anne McKinnell!  I just can’t take my eyes off these incredible shots of what has to be the cutest owls I have ever seen in my life!  This series is absolutely exquisite, with perfect depth of focus and compositions that really bring all the wonder and character of these little feathered friends to life for all to enjoy.  If you only have time to follow up on one post in this weeks list, this has to be considered. [...]

  17. [...] Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral – oh my word, what a WONDERFUL series of photographs from Anne McKinnell!  I just can’t take my eyes off these incredible shots of what has to be the cutest owls I have ever seen in my life!  This series is absolutely exquisite, with perfect depth of focus and compositions that really bring all the wonder and character of these little feathered friends to life for all to enjoy.  If you only have time to follow up on one post in this weeks list, this has to be considered. [...]

  18. A.Barlow says:

    Those are really awesome Anne!
    A.Barlow recently posted..Bro Fist RockMy Profile

  19. Melissa N says:

    You might like the book, Hoot by Carl Hiaasen. It’s a young adult/teenager story set in FL and revolving around the burrowing owls. Here’s a better description: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoot_(novel)

    Really enjoyed the photos :)

    • Hi Melissa, thank you very much for the book suggestion!! I really like it when I get book suggestions from people and I love reading books set in the places I am visiting. It helps give a place context (and it’s about the only way I can learn about history). I’m reading “gone with wind” right now, it’s set in Georgia and I’m getting all my civil war history. I will check out the owl book. I recently read the Jungle Book and White Fang where the main characters were animals and I really enjoyed them. If you like that kind of thing check out “white fang” – the main character is a wolf and it’s set in the Yukon.

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